Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tagged by My Sister, In More Ways than One

So this is a first for me, blogging in response to a prompt from another blogger. Usually these posts come from the internal wellspring, with a large assumption on my part that they stay pretty internal because I cannot imagine that people tune in to my one-blog-a-month pace. My sister Sarah just "tagged" me. Here is the format for this little game:

1. Link to the person or persons who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Normally when I receive these little quizzes via e-mail, I fill them out and e-mail them back to the one person who sent it to me, but I do not send it on. One reason I'm responding here is because I've never created a link to anything from within a blog post and it's time I learned, so here's to Sarah for providing me my technology lesson for today. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, (okay, they make links pretty easy for us), my older sister who will be joining us a second time over online with a new website soon, showcasing her beautiful paintings for viewing, drooling, and buying.

My Six Random Items of Interest (and these will be about me, not Noah, although my tendency these days is to find my son way more interesting than me):

1. I am in the process of purging 75% of my clothes closet, in hopes of only keeping the few items of clothes that I really love to wear. It started when my family recently moved, and continues. Another two sweaters came out this morning. Last month I brought my high school prom dress to a consignment shop.

2. My favorite food is the Maine crabmeat roll - I grew up on them at Perry's Snack Shack in Washington County, and now especially love the ones at The Sea Gull on Pemaquid Point, the restaurant and gift shop owned and operated by my mother-in-law.

3. In the 20+ years that I have been writing poems, I have not created continuous breathing room for myself to put them together into manuscripts, but my hope is to someday publish books of poems.

4. I'd also like to take guitar lessons.

5. I drive a bright green 1995 Geo Prizm with almost 304,000 miles on it. And yet, somehow I have days when I feel more worn out than my shiny car. It is the first and only car I've ever owned.

6. My dear mackerel tabby cat Sidney as of this morning weighs 18.5 pounds. Our new holistic veterinarian suggested that we phase Sidney off of the Newman's Own organic dry food because of the heavy carbohydrate content, and begin trying to feed him raw food, as in, raw chicken and ground beef, with bones in there too for calcium. I am disgusted but also strangely excited.

I can't expand from my pattern of not sending on quizzes to anyone, unfortunately, because I know very few other bloggers, but I managed to do this much at least while Noah sleeps upstairs. May others carry the torch onward.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanks, Not Tanks

It's been two months since I've blogged - I've thought of it many times because I could now easily supply another Top 10 most incredible things I've heard out of Noah's mouth, or share details about the miserable process we've gone through to get to the closing on a beautiful parcel of land and construction loan, or in the bigger world could talk about the fact that we now have our first African American President-Elect and the country may be extricated from the nasty war we've been fighting the past several years.

But today, amidst cleaning house to prepare for thirteen dinner guests tomorrow, and reading Noah story books before naptime, and thinking about running away by myself for a few hours to buy myself multiple pairs of earrings, I have one echoing experience to capture here.

Noah has been sleeping with us again. I find it quite ironic, because Matthew couldn't wait to get him out of our bed back in January or whenever it was. He'd had it with cosleeping, and to be fair, none of us were sleeping well at that point. Noah did not, and still does not, like covers, so would kick them down and we would get very cold while he lay perpendicular between us, a wedge, which he was becoming of sorts.

Since being in our rental, I've done my best to keep Noah in his routine of sleeping in his room, but after a stint with a cold, a few rainstorms with fierce winds coming off the water, and his father eagerly inviting "Do you want to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed tonight?" it's been about two weeks now that we just put him down to sleep in our bed at night.

The downside of this is that I now have even less time in any given 24-hour period to be a little bit free of his energy. Time when my own center can stretch and inhabit the space a bit more. This is also known as "A Break". And A Break when unconscious still counts as A Break.

The upside, which is a major upside and the point of this post, is that I get to wake to his face again. His two-year-old face and his immediate song and chant, "Maki, maki, maki, I want maki, Mumma, maki." The Milk Song. His round cheeks and chin. Every morning, even if I am squinting as I was this morning because we had a massive wind and rainstorm last night and the vent on the kitchen stove sucked air and went "Bam!" every seven minutes, I wake and feel like it's Christmas. Noah's blue eyes, his sweet words, big head of orange-brown hair, smiling and ready to enter another day, full steam ahead. And seeing Matthew excited to experience Noah of course doubles my pleasure of the whole scenario.

Whoever dubbed this stage "The Terrible Twos" when discipline and structure are all-important - bring out the tanks and heavy artillery - left out the way a two-year-old can make any grinchly parent's heart grow three sizes, and grow again, and again, and again. On this Thanksgiving Eve, Santa is surely on his way very soon, but has a tough act to follow with these special mornings when my husband and I wake to our beautiful son.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spilt Milk

In the past six or seven weeks, my husband and I have continued to search for a home to buy, in the area of his new job - Waldo County, Maine. We were fortunate to have our own home go under contract - something that seemed sad and monumental the day it happened and now seems like ages ago and not anything to worry about. As our closing date has crept closer and closer, we've had a series of fits and starts, trying to press forward with some places that just weren't right, then falling back and assessing and starting again. We now are looking for land upon which to build, and have fortunately just days ago landed a rental so we will actually have someplace to go when we leave this place.

And really, it isn't just someplace. It's actually an incredible custom-built home on the water in Belfast, Maine. Belfast is a town we didn't even consider looking for a permanent home, because the taxes are so high. Why we are able to affordably rent such a palace, but can't find a modest home to buy, is kind of beyond me. I have stopped trying to figure out the real estate market. Our last back-and-forth with a seller this past week involved him stretching the negotiation out the whole week, all so he could tell us that he would drop the price on his land from $44,900 to $44,400 - what whopping generosity.

Finally in this last three days, comes the actual inspiration for this post - we have begun PACKING. I've been anticipating it for so long, it's actually been fun most of the time so far. I love to sort, organize, pare down, and purge. Carrying four thumbtacks from the kitchen, three rooms away to the box which contains all the materials from our desk drawers, and putting them into the thumbtack container I've already started there, brings me inner peace. A sense of calm knowing that things are in their places. For the most part, now that we are in the midst of the move, I have not run into any emotional walls, and have done well working over our candle cupboard, the bookcases, and kitchen cabinets. I banged my head against them (the emotional walls, not the kitchen cabinets) for most of the summer and the early part of this month, so moving forward finally through the change has been a welcome relief.

Until today, when Matthew and I tackled the basement. While we've spent the past year sorting and selling things from down there, it still caused the mover to say "Wow, that's a lot of stuff," when he came a few days ago to give me an estimate. So we chipped away all day today and actually packed about three quarters of it. When Noah got up from his nap, Matthew went up to put together the Christmas train set that Noah spied and had to unpack, and I decided to empty our chest freezer.

Now, we are just a little bit famous in our small circle for having a lot of organic beef in our freezer. We used to do half-cows, but a year ago we bought an entire cow. People can't get away from a visit with us without having some beef in their hands. One Christmas we gave away frozen roasts at a holiday party. This fall, however, in anticipation of our move we didn't buy any beef, so now we have an amount left that would fit in the side-by-side refrigerator we have in our kitchen. I brought it right up. The only other things of note in the chest freezer were the bags and bags of frozen breast milk that I once so carefully packaged and labeled. It was all over a year old, well beyond when the books say breastmilk is still good, and I knew months ago I should have taken care of it. Not until today was I ready to deal with it, and it still was the last thing I took out of the freezer. I unloaded the bags into a wire rack and carried the rack up to the kitchen sink. I thought I would just let it sit there and melt, but five minutes later I came back and ran hot water over each bag, sliding the icy lumps out. I felt all slurry, a good-bye registering - to this time, to Noah's babyhood, to this place that brought us together as a married couple and a family. Good-bye to the spot of many wonderful celebrations and the best day-to-day life I've had so far. I slowly emptied all the bags, and it was done. Nothing else to do but turn off and unplug the freezer. Isn't that just like time, to come so heavily into the room, and then walk out like nothing happened.

Now here I sit just a little while later. Noah is in the living room, playing along with his Christmas train and singing a song amidst bare walls and boxes, and I feel ready, thankfully - on the other side of some line that I've been shrinking away from for months. "I thought I could - I thought I could - I thought I could," is maybe what comes to mind. Our transition continues, but we are definitely off, onto another adventure together in a new and beautiful place.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


A book I am reading, which I have to unhappily say I don't think is well-written but does have some helpful ideas in it, reminded me this morning that the true purpose of forgiveness is to reopen the door inside myself that lets positive experiences in. This is relevant because the past few weeks have been difficult ones in my little part of the world, and I've increasingly taken refuge inside myself, building a pretty tough reinforcement between me and the outside, between me and my husband, even between me and other parts of myself.

On the most positive view of things, Noah turned two last month and has begun swimming in language, sometimes repeating what he hears, but mostly tumbling, screaming, exclaiming his thoughts as he has them. He also has taken up basketball, golf, tennis, and soccer, with a joy that is infectious.

Another positive development is that after a year of searching, my husband has found a new job in another county in Maine, and started July 1st. It is over an hour away, so we have put our house on the market and have been looking to purchase a home closer to that neck of the woods. We've been anticipating this change for such a long time, and then suddenly it arrived. I have mixed feelings about it all - the decision to relocate for his job which also brings us closer to the ocean is one that feels right, and yet leaving the home where we married and where I have all my memories of Noah's life so far, is painful. In my own small way, I feel like a homeless refugee, even though we certainly are not in those circumstances for real. I'm upset about it, and I'm upset about all the fleeting summer energy it's taking to go through this transition. I don't know where I belong. Right now I'm nowhere.

As the weeks have gone on, with long days of me looking at houses with Noah while Matthew works, I've worn down. Trying to fit in some summer fun here and there has been difficult while all this other stuff sits in the wings, asserting that it is the real star of the show. Having any time with my husband has been impossible, so all the time we have together is either reentry or preparing to be apart - we are not usually at our best in these times. When my birthday came and went this past Thursday I wanted the day to be over, something I don't think I've ever felt in my life. I'm very sentimental when it comes to celebrating birthdays and other special occasions for myself or others. It was a hard day for me, in the end, when usually I spend that day enjoying things and visioning about the year to come. That added a touch of bitterness to my already foul mood this week.

Now a few days beyond, I understand that what I want is for this TIME to be over, this time of looking and not knowing, of having my roots exposed while we look for our next home, of having too many things to focus on, all while the beautiful but dratted fall air is already starting to fold into the mornings.

And today I guess I am getting tired of feeling lousy. So as this book discusses, the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, since my valve to outside positive experience has been seriously closing, the answer, to begin to enjoy again, to be thankful for what is behind and what is to come, is to forgive right now. Forgive sounds like kind of a hefty action for some mostly circumstantial happenings, but isn't it all circumstantial? Isn't the slight over breakfast just as big or small as the grief of leaving my home? Isn't it all, as a dear old friend used to say, (and pardon the curse word) just AFGO - Another Fucking Growth Opportunity? It sure is easier to get angry at Matthew or someone else than it is to stay focused on the choice, the one I've made, to leave this dear place I love so much - close to my work, my friends, the place I've centered my life for years. I'm sorry that this feels like it does, I'm sorry to leave this place, and I hope the move happens soon so the equilibrium can right again - I need the outside circumstances to reflect the leaving I'm already doing.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Grass Is Greener

This afternoon I was down at Long Pond swimming with Noah. He gazed longingly at a pair of orange goggles that a little girl had slung up on the edge of the lake, and also admired her glittery flip flops. I asked him to leave them alone, when the girl's mother said, "Excuse me, Miss? It's fine if he plays with any of that stuff. We don't mind at all." I said thanks and managed a few other lines of conversation, but was in somewhat of a daze as my head replayed and struggled with "Miss? Miss?" I haven't been called Miss by anyone in a long time. I think it was in my days as a bank teller when I was always being called Miss by the customers. I connect this lakeside experience to one I had earlier this week when I was carded in line at the grocery store when I brought up a bottle of wine to celebrate with my husband, who has just gotten a new job. I looked at the woman at the check-out incredulously and told her that I'm turning 39 next month. She said she never would have believed it.

Now on one hand, I think 38 is a fine age, and I wouldn't take my 20s back for anything. On the other, I honestly received a small thrill from being seen as younger than I am. What this really told me (other than how I am sucked into the yucky culture that values youth over experience), is that suddenly I am on the side of the line where I know loud and clear that I am no longer young.

I have a partially-burned candle in a kitchen drawer from my 30th birthday, shaped like a gravestone, that bears the words "Here lies my youth." I got it for myself as a joyful good-bye to the decade that had been less than fun to get through. It was wonderful sarcasm, because I was leaving an "old" life behind, and heading into a much fresher one. And my reality continues to be that I enjoy aging, especially in recent years. Becoming a mother has, on the whole, made me feel more young inside. So has has getting to know myself better as an adult and letting youthful confusion and inexperience, and the misery it can produce, slide off me.

And now as I head forward in this time, Noah marches along beside me, his flags waving. This Friday he will turn 2. Tonight as Matthew used a knife to cut cheese for crackers, Noah said "Knife, knife?" and I explained briefly for the fortieth time that knives weren't for babies and that when he was a big boy he would be able to use a knife. A few minutes later we were talking with him about his upcoming birthday, and I told him that he would be 2 years old. He thought for a minute and said, "Knife?" There it was, he had it - the yearning to be old enough, to be able to do life more fully, like he sees everyone doing it around him. Coupled with my yearning to find my own simple truths again. There we sat, side by side on the stools in the kitchen, holding hands. It's another reason why being a mother is so wonderful - this child gives me the roadmap back, while I give him the one forward.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Kate Who?

On one recent morning Noah and I sat on my bed after his bathtime, and I was playing our name game with him. "Who is your brother?" Noah made a "c" with his hand and yelled out "Co-Co!" which is his nickname for his 16-year-old stepbrother Colby, who now also goes by "Coke" and "Colby Doo", bless his heart. "Who is Matthew?" I asked, and Noah thought for a second and responded "Daddeee! Daddeee!" with no small amount of glee in his voice. "Who is Sidney?" Noah made the sign for "cat" and said "Catncatncat." Finally, I asked, "Who is Kate?" Noah concentrated very hard for quite a few seconds, and then said with excitement, "Peow!" I laughed and said "Yes, Katy is a plow, isn't she?" (See Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton, one of Noah's favorite books right now.)

This was both a delightful and sad moment for me. I love the book too, and this plow Katy is one serious go-getter, not unlike myself at times. I also was struck by how I am so totally Mumma-Mommy-Mum now that it's rare for me to ever hear my own name spoken in my home. Even Matthew addresses me as "Mum" a lot of times when Noah isn't even in the room. As I write this, I remember reading in a magazine blurb many months ago that this is a sure sign of impending doom in a marriage. But I digress.

As Noah approaches two years old, and shows his excitement more and more for everything around him, I feel like my own motivation for anything other than him is creeping along like an old camel who has decided she really doesn't need water ever again and she'll just live on whatever she's got stored up in her hump for the REST OF HER LIFE. I am tired of my old mental loops of thinking about how and when and what to do, which personal goal or project to push forward with the minute amount of "free time" I have when Noah naps...How to make it happen for myself, some modicum of my old productivity, doing things for others or myself - that goes beyond getting clean and dressed. I feel today like giving up on all that and just being Mommy. Trying to be anything else often leaves me down and tired, more tired than the regular exhaustion that comes from being a parent. Cosmically tired.

There are days like this when I imagine myself to be the mythological Tityrus. He was chained to a rock for his crimes, while a vulture fed upon his heart and entrails, which were ever renewed as fast as devoured. The doctrine of endless punishment was born and suits me well when I need to see my husband Matthew as the vulture, reaping the benefits of me over and over and over again - me the co-parent, childcare provider (for those times when I know what I'm doing doesn't rise to the level of parenting, but is much more like just keeping Noah alive until someone who can be more responsible comes back to help out), grocery shopper, housekeeper, master organizer... And of course, it's me who's the real vulture, bitterly attacking myself again and again with mean and useless messages, which I really can't be affording to do given that I need to raise this dear boy and don't have a lot of energy for other things, which is the whole point.

My old life is so over. I can't really even pretend sometimes that I have parts of it, and I think that's the way I've been approaching things so far. The endless cultural conversation about mothers doing it all and of course looking good while they do it is a paradigm that is not only unattainable, it seems to me to spell out a formula for not being present with my child, my partner, and myself. On some level, it's absolutely impossible to be responsible for a tiny person's safety and security and to enjoy that little life, and still expect to exercise, celebrate regular intimate moments with my partner, contribute to society, and be socially and politically active, unless I make them part of some new paradigm together. They can't be compartmentalized and ticked off a list.

When I planned my return to work after three months of maternity leave, I proposed to come back at reduced hours, and Noah would be with me on-site. As Matthew helped me strategize how to plan that time and what work to focus on, he said something brilliant: that I could approach it as doing the same job with less time, or I could approach it as a completely new job. This was an incredibly novel and helpful way to think about things, and I know that it applies here. Being a mother, and wanting to get outside in the long overdue warm weather, and moving forward with projects through my consulting business, and oh yes, making time with my husband, they all have to overlap now and have something to do with one another in a big, messy, mudpie sort of way. I can't just barrel through until it's all done, in that Katy snow plow sort of way that I used to do. I have to more intentionally find the counterpoints in the day to being Mommy, Mommy the rock, Mommy the thing that Noah can love or safely rage against or whatever else he needs to do. I have to find Kate in this new place, Kate as my source, Kate as my reference point, this new woman, Kate.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mission Impossible: Episode 10,001

Now wait a minute, what happened to April? The first time I put a note in my calendar to post this particular blog was three weeks ago. It has since appeared on about ten different dates in my calendar. Fruitless planning...and now it is May, and I hear yellow finches calling outside through the open window in our computer room. Some people call such rooms offices, but ours has not graduated to that title as I'm just as likely to be doing my consulting project work on the living room couch or sitting up in bed as here at my desk.

So anyway, lately, when I have trimmed Noah's fingernails by flashlight after he's asleep in bed for the night, or popped bites of scrambled eggs into his mouth as he wildly waves his arms at the bouquet of flowers on the table ("Oooohhh! Dat! Dat! Dat!"), I have increasingly felt what a covert operation motherhood must be to be at all successful. For this boy to be bathed, dressed, fed, happy, healthy, and all the other things he needs and deserves to be, involves stealth and sometimes what feels like a magician's sleight-of-hand. It's simply impossible to negotiate everything outloud with an almost two-year-old. Even as I write that, I know that this is a bigger reality. It's impossible to negotiate everything outloud with a 37-year-old as well (which would be my age), and I sometimes feel a palpable sense of my own prickly behavior when I start to catch either of my own parents looking out for me. As if, "How dare they, those parents!"

In screenwriting, this aspect of things might be considered a subplot. On the surface of things, in the major plotlines, people are saying and doing things, la-la-la-ing along nicely, and in fact lots happens this way. But what makes a good screenplay and story great is when the subplot actively and visibly rolls along underneath. One of the characters says something, and their true wish or need is for the exact opposite, or some other variation. Something happens, and it is what didn't happen that makes the most impact. It is the the subplot that most needs to be reconciled or actualized, driven to resolution, for characters to become our heros and heroines.

So it is with Noah and me. His plot and surface goal for most days, is to do, well, what's fun I guess. Noah wants to do what is fun. Wow, people, what a place to be! If I set aside even a day a week to focus only on what's fun and perhaps three or four duty-driven or responsible-to-others type things, I wonder how much more balanced I'd be. For Noah though, on most days my subplot for him is that he bathe, get dressed, eat, and be active for a good part of the day. Luckily, all of these things can involve fun, as well as some flexibility. I am finding that transitions are potentially the least fun for Noah. He's usually very easy going when given some notice that a change is coming, but still often emits that wonderful energy of "This is great, why stop?" when something truly needs to happen, like a nap let's say because he's lost coordination and has started to fall down every other minute. So the music starts - da-da-daaaaa, da-da-daaaaa - and I become a superspy, plotting avenues to get his late-morning diaper changed and a blanket over him without him noticing too much.

I was reading an article this week that someone sent me in anticipation of Mother's Day tomorrow. It was written by Anna Quinlan and in one part she talks about wishing she had raised her kids with a little less drive to get them on to the next thing, and had been more present with whatever was happening in the moment (I paraphrase). It has taken me a few days to sort out why this actually rubbed me crossways, because I love Anna's writing, and I think it's because for me being a mother is more complicated than being present with your children with where they are at any given moment. For me it is doing everything I can to be open to Noah and to making his life fun, and is also recognizing that it's a major responsibility I have to help move his subplot along. It's also getting out of his way sometimes, and trying to meet my own needs somehow too. I can't forget about that, even though I really have a lot of the time. While there is flexibility with almost everything Noah "needs to do" if I allow it to exist, there is so much about this relationship I have with my dear son that is guiding him and and not letting him see me do it. Ethan Hunt has nothing on me.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Homeland Policy (part two)

Report on night number two of the closed-door policy: Noah went to bed last night just after 7:00. He woke briefly at 8:30. Matthew was working furiously on a job application in the office under Noah's bedroom, and when he telephoned a friend to request a reference, his voice carried through the ceiling. I held my breath as I heard Noah cry briefly, go to the door, and then returning to tumble back into bed. Total time awake, three minutes. He awoke next in the middle of the night, for seven minutes, and then slept again until 6:00 in the morning. I am filled with gratitude at his goodness. I am not yet relaxed about this whole thing, as evidenced by my complete attention to the total number of minutes he is alone and awake in his bedroom, but I creep toward adjusting.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Domestic Policy and (En)treaties

The prolific musician Paul Simon released a greatest hits collection in 1988 called "Negotiations and Love Songs" and yesterday I woke thinking how apt and wry a title this is becoming for my newest experiences of Noah's toddlerhood. Parenting Noah in the last several weeks has brought me the farthest out of my comfort zone as I've been to date. I'm sure this is just the beginning, but it has been a hard realization after so many truly blessed months of feeling like a competent mother.

Noah is 20 months old, and exploring his world as much he possibly can. This includes strengthening his independence, while of course continuing to be very dependent. A situation none of us would find easy or fun, and yet it has startled Matthew and I at moments to see Noah asserting so LOUDLY and ADAMANTLY about how he doesn't want us to pull off his shirt before bathtime, or doesn't want us to touch the tower of blocks, or any number of things that we've coasted along doing forever until now. It's not about rhyme or reason, and largely causes us to smile a lot and offer empathetic support for Noah finding his way while we try to stay out of the way. Except, of course, for the point of this blog - the real rub. Noah's sleep has been really disrupted, for nights on end, more than ever in his life. Therefore, so has ours.

Our history with sleep involves co-sleeping with Noah until he was 16 months old, when he then moved to a single mattress bed on the floor of our room for two months, and then in January moved down the hall into his own room. He's never slept in a crib. Once he'd really settled into his room, I weaned him from breastfeeding at night, and then weaned him from having me lie down and/or sleep with him, which brings us to where we have been for some weeks now - I have continued to respond to his wakeful cries in the night by going and sitting by him on the bed until he falls asleep, and then would creep back to my own bed. A few weeks ago we hit a plateau as this "I want...Can I get?" phase started and it started to be five times a night that he would call for me. Then he wouldn't fall asleep deeply enough so I could get out his door before he woke and cried for me again. Then he was getting out of bed and padding down the hall to get me several times a night.

While I've had tired nights before, and actually Noah has never slept all the way through a night, what was excruciating about this was that as a parent I had arrived at the edge of a new cliff. Each transition before I had been able to help Noah make by remaining physically close to him. Looking back I don't know whether this was more comforting to him or me. As Matthew and I gathered information and talked in the last two days to come up with a new plan together to help Noah get better sleep and stay in his room at night, it became clear that he would not be able to enter a process of disorganization and then problem-solving to learn to comfort himself if I (or Matthew) was always there to do the job for him. And the fact that all three of us were now sleeping poorly despite my dogged response to Noah's cries was telling us that change was again upon us. So Matthew and I wrangled and struggled and talked and finally agreed that we would do the most scary thing we've had to do so far with Noah: shut his bedroom door.

To type that, it seems very inocuous compared to the strong negative connotations both Matthew and I had with doing this. Neither of us are proponents of the "cry it out" method and we know that our tolerance for Noah's crying, discomfort, and distress is pretty low. We both feared traumatizing him by withdrawing from him and containing him in his room. But we finally agreed that we could talk with him about this plan, would place a new nightlight in the room, offer a lovey to him that he could use or not use, and would try it. A child development specialist we rely on for assistance had offered in a phone call yesterday afternoon that we could try 15 minutes of waiting after Noah wakes in the night, and Matthew and I agreed that we could tolerate this much distress on Noah's part, but not much more more. We enjoyed a bath, putting on pajamas, reading books, and I nursed Noah down to sleep. Matthew and I went downstairs to watch a little t.v. and try to unwind, both basically thinking that the night ahead could be pure hell.

Noah woke around the time he usually does in the night - the clock said 11:59. I tensed and both Matthew and I were immediately completely alert and listening. Interestingly, Noah called for Matthew first, an unusual thing for him. Since I had done most of the talking at bedtime about the plan, I think Noah knew that I wasn't going to come tonight. He usually knows when I mean business. So he called for Matthew for about 30 seconds. Then he called for me. Then he called for the cat. "Cat! Caaaaat!" At this time Matthew said "He's so smart." We could hear Noah thinking, trying to figure out what to do. Then he started knocking on his door really loudly. He rattled the doorknob. Matthew and I held hands and listened. Four minutes had passed. Noah started to cry hard, and then quickly began to gag and choke, a really painful thing to hear as any parent knows who has a child who has this secondary response to an unwanted event. A few times when Noah has cried really hard for a long time he has done this. It's AWFUL. Matthew and I had agreed beforehand that if he did that for more than 30 seconds, then Matthew would go in and comfort Noah and try to calm him down and get out of the room again as quickly as possible. Noah stopped and it got quiet for a minute. Matthew said, "He's thinking." I had enough room in my brain to notice how different Matthew and I were responding. I was lying there stiff as a board warding off thoughts that I am a terrible mother, and he was a sports announcer giving an empathetic play-by-play of our son's words and deeds. "He's on his bed," he said next, with some amount of wonder in his voice. It had been six minutes. Noah went back to the door and started really yelling loudly for me. He did this for about another six or seven minutes and unbelievably, 14 minutes from his first cry, we heard him go to his bed. "He's going to safety," said Matthew. At exactly 15 minutes Noah was silent, asleep. I got up and turned up the monitor to hear Noah breathing for a minute, and then got back in bed. Matthew and I debriefed for a few minutes, and went back to sleep. Noah didn't wake again until 6:00 a.m.

The light was coming in the window, and Matthew and I went and got Noah when we heard him stir. On his bed with him was a book, a diaper, the container of diaper wipes, and his sippy cup of water. The things he'd take to a deserted island if stranded. I felt, well, like we'd all made it through alive. So great was my fear, my wanting to do the right thing for Noah.

I can't say that I slept well last night, from listening so hard, but I learned my own lessons, distinct ones from Noah's. First, what felt so intensely like a parenting issue, negotiation, and decision, was so much really a developmental issue for Noah. It's his job to ask for what he wants and what he knows, and to work to gain control of his own little life. It doesn't mean he always gets what he wants, because new things become appropriate as he grows. Second, while the goal was to give Noah the opportunity to learn a new skill, he was teaching us at least as much. Creating space for opportunity is not abandonment or brokenness. A hard one for me to remember, as this is a vulnerability I've long lived with. Finally, I am so blessed to learn that all those earlier months and moments of giving him love and space to be himself are mattering already, because he has the support to use what he has inside him to step off his own little cliff and find - amazing! The net is right there for him. What more could a mother want for her child than this - resourcefulness and strength.

It's this mix of having to take the lead, make the rules, have control, use force, guide and shape, give up, nudge and allow, and let go. This impossible mix that had us pleading with Noah two days ago, and making a plan as his parents the next. On this day I feel so blessed that my deepest belief has proved out that with the closing of his bedroom door, a host of new bridges are built.

Monday, March 24, 2008

While My Baby Gently Weeps

Matthew and I continue to say that Noah is an old soul. He seems to express deep emotions that are years beyond his years. Matthew and I have thought for a very long time how amazing it is that he would sit on the floor in front of our shelf of photo albums, pull them out, flip through for a long time, and then would begin weeping. Not the frustrated cry, not the angry cry, not the "I want something right now" cry, but weeping. We would hear him sniffle, and then he'd drop his head, and then he would cry big sad tears. Weeping with the sweet sentimentality that I thought we were imbued with only when we get older.

Last week he had another reason to weep. He's been missing his "Dadn" while he is away at work. At first, the only love object that got this special pronounciation was our cat, Sidney, who for some time was referred to as "Catncatncatncat." Now he has taken on another completely different pronounciation that is kind of a Snagglepuss-with-Long-Island-dialect, "Cyaaaaat. Cyaaaaat. Cyaaaaat." Anyway, last week, "Dada" became "Dadn," which Matthew takes to mean that Noah truly loves him now in some way he didn't before. So anyway, one day after bathtime in the morning, Noah took the largest of the rubber ducks in the tub and proclaimed it "Dadn." Then he carried the duck around with him all day, and wept on it. He would play with me for a while, or we would read, and then he would hold up his "Dadn" duck while making the baby sign for "Daddy" at the same time, and big crocodile tears would roll down his cheeks. I'd hold him tight and tell him I miss Daddy too, and this would prompt Noah to open his mouth wide and wail with the saddest sobs I've ever heard. I would nurse him and he'd have to stop nursing to cry and sob. I've never seen anything like this. Much of my young life I worked as a personal caregiver and watched over many babies who never revealed this absolutely sweet heartbreaking behavior.

We called Daddy at work on both of these days, and Noah would listen intently while Matthew talked to him, and then would burble and chat himself whenever Matthew paused. He would do well for a while after the call, and then would weep again. Those two nights he also wanted Matthew to sleep in bed with him in the middle of the night, a huge first. Usually, if Daddy tries to help out at night he is met with arms pushing him away and screams for "Mamaaaaa! Mamaaaaa!" But on these nights Matthew got into bed with him and held him tightly and slept beside him. I prayed that Noah didn't know something tragic that I don't, because he acted like Matthew was going away forever, or had been gone forever.

After those two days, there was another sea change. As many people have said, there is no getting comfortable with any certain stage, and even calling behaviors a stage seems ridiculous when it's only two days of said behaviors, but he was back to our light-hearted love of a son. He was happy, didn't mention Matthew much when he wasn't around, and slept wonderfully and happily again at night with only a few wakeful moments.

It's a mystery, this parenting thing. While I can probably count on my two hands the times I've actually panicked because of either being afraid for his safety and well-being, or because I absolutely didn't know what to do, many more times do I watch in wonder like a student looking at an admired teacher, and do what I can, amazed when things make a difference to him, or when he shifts gears seemingly effortlessly, from joyful to bereft, or from pain to peace. He is moved by tides and waters deeper than I can see. And when he shows us his tender heart so plainly there is no more sweet and sad song out there.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cat Caveat

Noah has always liked our cat Sidney, but he has recently discovered him on a new level. We will be down in the living room at any given time, reading books, working on puzzles, playing with his train or blocks, and he will suddenly jump up, sing out - "Catncatncatncat!" - run to the stairs, and head up to find the cat wherever he might be passed out at the time. This now happens several times a day. And he makes offerings to the cat, giving Sid his most prized possessions: one day he laid out three organic Cheerios-type cereal in front of Sid, another day a matchbox car, another day a board book opened so Sidney could read. He loves that cat, and points to the floor next to where he's sitting, inviting Sid to come and be with him, to be his friend and playmate. It's so sweet to see Noah lay his heart out.

The cat has simultaneously been showing more signs of interest and affection toward Noah. A few weeks ago he started wandering in to Noah's bedroom to sleep at the end of his bed when Noah takes his naps. This makes Noah shake all over with excitement when he wakes to find the cat there. Sidney also started purring when Noah pats him. But unfortunately, this new and more intense connection has even more recently resulted in Noah trying to lie on Sidney to feel the love even more, to crawl under the bed or couch after Sid once he'd removed himself in retreat, and to chase him eagerly from room to room to try to get him to come and play. It's love gone wrong. Sidney has gone from mewling warnings, to slapping Noah on the shirt, to scratching his hand and cheek. Noah acts so confused when he gets scratched, because he loves Sidney so much.

I remember reading advice to never leave a cat in the same room with the baby, but Sidney always had a very friendly and passive relationship with Noah when he was a toothless, bald, immobile sweet baby-blob. Even when Noah cried Sidney would stay close, and look concerned. But in the last two days Matthew and I have had more than one heated conversation about this being the end of the road for Noah's love affair with Sidney. I am now officially the mother I used to joke about who wails "Someone could put an eye out!"

So our plus-size kitty has to take a back seat (but he actually gets the whole upstairs) to Noah. This sweet baby kitten whom I've loved so much the past 3 1/2 years isn't the "top dog" any longer. It's a clear back seat for the animal. Of course it's not so bad for Sid, who has a pretty great life here with us, but so hard for me to remove him once he's given his warning meow, like I would a jar of poison or bottle of thumbtacks. He was the first creature in my adult life to unlock my maternal instincts and feelings, and really paved the way for the baby human to come along later. And Noah will not always be this adamant about pursuing him, I feel sure. Until that time, Sidney and I will have our early morning time, when Matthew takes Noah downstairs and I sleep for another hour, and the cat crawls up onto my chest as he has since he was a kitten, and settles down to sleep, soaking up the love there for him.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Top Five Noah Verbalizations to Celebrate Mid-January

5. The universal "ca" which as of this morning stands for "car", "clock", "cow", and sometimes "chicken." You have to keep your eyes open for what's going on or you'll miss the correct interpretration. When they say that communication is only partially about what is said outloud, they are so right!

4. Another great new word in the past two weeks - here's a clue: What rumbles down the street removing snow so we can safely drive on our road? It rhymes with "meow", yes, it's "pyeow!"

3. No more struggling to remember which name goes with which family member. It's all for one and one for all. He names all of us when he names one of us: "MumDadCoCoCaCa." If brother Colby hasn't been around for a while or if the cat is on the outs, he reverts to the abbreviated "DadMumDad."

2. When we are sitting at the dinner table, and I go around the table pointing to all of us, or if Noah and I are looking at a photograph album and I point to people in the pictures, saying, "Who's that?" "Who's that?" He answers loudly "Da-Da!" "Co-Co!" I point to myself, "Who's that" He says "Mum." I touch his shoulder, "Who's that?" In a much quieter voice, his small little Noah voice, he says "No-no." Beloved, No-No, our Noah.

And the Number One verbalization to celebrate in this cold month of January...

1. Noah loves his older step-brother Colby, and when Colby is here Noah can be heard saying (or more likely screaming) "Co-Co! Co-Co! Co-Co!" as a constant invitation to come play, look at this, and as a general "I love you more than toast with butter!" This weekend he started saying it just out of the corner of his mouth, but just as loud - "Co-Co-Co-Co!" Before our eyes he became Popeye the Sailor Man! "Ar-Ar-Ar-Ar!"

Friday, January 11, 2008

Some Days the Eagle, Some the Statue Below

Last week we entered a new transition with Noah. After some very difficult nights of me being awake with him, and trying to wean him at night but him crying for milk for a very long time, and my dear husband getting so sleep-deprived that he was becoming shall we say less than supportive in those wee hours, I'd had it. I moved Noah's bed into his Own Room. I took out much of the stuff we've been storing in his room all these many months that the room has gone unused by the baby. I took out the plants that we'd lined against the windows for the winter. I washed and hung new curtains. I brought toys into the room. I brought in all Noah's books that had been in our bedroom. I brought his diapers and wipes and bum cream into his room. This had never yet been Noah's place to be and spend time. Until this day.

Since then, my new ability to go in and close Noah's door and focus on Noah at night without also being preoccupied with Matthew's needs across the room has brought me huge relief. I feel that I've been able to so much better balance Noah's nights of great progress with the others that involve sheer exhaustion and me mining patience out of the ceiling and cracks in the floor when I've used all mine up.

Early this week Noah slept seven-and-a-half hours straight at night without waking and asking for me or asking for milk. I woke feeling incredibly optimistic about life. Noah then took a two-and-a-half hour nap in the morning, so I had a long shower, caught up on e-mail, did some consulting work, and actually did some pleasure reading. When he woke up we found three missing puzzle pieces that had been gone for weeks - they had drifted under the dryer in the upstairs washer/dryer closet. Moments later I located a matchbox car that had disappeared ages before the puzzle pieces - it was in the cat's carpeted climbing tower, in the back of the compartment at the bottom. It isn't often lately that I have a day of finding things, let me tell you. It was a great day. So kind of like at Christmas, I'm realizing that there are rarely perfect 24-hour periods of time, but there are lots of great moments almost every day. Almost.

Because there was of course yesterday. I woke up exhausted, as Noah had woken tearfully several times in the night and was forceful about wanting milk, even pulling my hair a few times in his frustration. I don't know where I found a gentle nighttime voice for those last hours between 3:00 and 5:00. Matthew got up with Noah at 5:30 and I went back to our bed for another hour but it was not restful sleep. Matthew left for work and I went to the refrigerator to start breakfast for Noah and me. The bulb in the refrigerator blew and I saw a small bolt of electricity shoot across the air in there. I took out the milk and bread and closed the door, trying to ignore the fact that the refrigerator was no longer humming. Then the toaster broke. Then when I was making scrambled eggs Noah played with the tea kettle and dropped it on the tile floor, breaking a big circular chunk of enamel off the side. And for the first time he wasn't really excited about eating scrambled eggs, so I ended up scraping them dry off the floor later.

A short time after breakfast Noah started falling down a lot so I knew it was naptime, even though the clock only said 9:30. I took him up to his bed, anxious for a chance to unwind in a long, hot shower. He went down quickly, and I got in the shower. I was in the shower just long enough to discover that the conditioner I'd bought myself was actually a second bottle of shampoo. My hair would be impossible to comb through. Then the doorbell rang. It couldn't be my 11:00 appointment already, could it? I got out and put on my robe and went downstairs, my hair dripping. I peeked out the study window to see who it was, not intending to answer the door as I was. It was my friend and neighbor, with whom I'd arranged to watch Noah next Thursday, not today. She was obviously having an off day too, so I invited her in and we ended up talking until my 11:00 appointment did show up. Since I was still in my robe I went upstairs to get dressed, thinking that I had to find some way to get into a groove with this day. I went on to break a bowl while setting the table for lunch with my guest, and burned my finger and thumb on the pizza stone when I lifted it from the oven. The total lack of perfection going on all around me was really wearing me down, but somehow didn't break me. I was actually in kind of a silly mood when my husband got called from work to see how Noah and I were doing. At some point it's a good thing I guess to just stop trying and see what happens next.

Two real days, and sometimes I don't understand how I could feel so completely off one day and how everything just seems to click and make me go all teary from the joy of it all on another. And I forget that Noah, and Matthew, and everyone are meanwhile having their eagle and statue days too, and of course, none of our days are necessarily the same ones. And it's never even a whole day that can't be rescued. Last night Noah had his best night yet - he woke a few times, but never cried, and never persisted asking for milk, just said into the dark a few times in his sweet tiny voice, "Mama? Mama?"